It did not take long for Chris Kleine to climb the ranks within the biggest local outdoor organization in Alexandria.
The Viking Sportsmen have been a catalyst for driving outdoor initiatives in the area for 75 years now. Kleine has been a member of the club for a little less than two years, but he quickly realized it was a group he wanted to be a big part of.
At 35-years-old, Kleine is a sales manager at Geneva Capital in Alexandria. Like many people his age, life is busy, but he has a passion for the outdoors that he felt could be put to good use in the community he grew up in.
“My grandpa, he passed away a couple years ago, but he introduced me to the outdoors,” Kleine said. “I remember squirrel hunting and using his single-shot 16-gauge shotgun. Just loved spending time with him doing those things. It evolved into deer hunting, snowmobiling, anything and everything outdoors.”
Kleine’s impact within the group was felt immediately, and he was voted in as president of the club in February of 2020 by the board of directors. In this question-and-answer story, Kleine talks about the present and future of the Viking Sportsmen and what he hopes to bring to the organization as a young president. The story has been edited for length.
Q: How did this transition occur with you being in the Viking Sportsmen for just a couple years and already taking on the role of president?
KLEINE: It was just an opportunity. Gene Sullivan was the current president, and he was doing a great job. We had a good base of board members, but I just felt there was an opportunity to bring a new perspective, new ideas, a different way to run the meetings. Some efficiency I thought I could bring to the table. It was no ill will toward anybody or that things were not being done well. I just thought they could be done differently.
Q: There are so many different outdoor organizations a person can be involved in today. Why did you want to take on such a big role with the Viking Sportsmen in particular?
KLEINE: Just because there’s a good group of guys. We’re in good company. We’ve been doing this for 75 years this year. You look at our wall or read some past minutes, there’s some recognizable names who have come through the doors of Viking Sportsmen, and there’s just a ton of opportunities. I wanted to plug myself in and volunteer.
Q: You hear all the time about how busy life is for young adults. How do you balance work, your personal life and doing what you need to do as president with the club?
KLEINE: It’s challenging, but we’ve also evolved. In the midst of a pandemic, people are getting accustomed to Zoom meetings. We no longer have to wait for monthly meetings to occur to be accomplishing things behind the scenes. We can email, text, call each other. Introducing new forms of communication into kind of an older-generation club goes a long way. You can accomplish a ton of things between meetings that don’t necessarily require you to sit down and hash it out for two hours.
Q: What is the state of the Viking Sportsmen right now in terms of its membership?
KLEINE: Typically our membership is driven by a paid membership at our banquet. This year, we didn’t have a banquet. We sent out an email blast trying to get membership because without a banquet, we took a big hit on revenue. We sent out an email blast, and we got just north of 100 paid members. Typically, it’s in that 300 range, as well as 21 board members.
Q: Losing annual banquets was hard on outdoor organizations on a national level. How did that affect local clubs like the Viking Sportsmen?
KLEINE: It’s huge. We’re lucky because we’re financially OK. We have savings set aside so we can continue funding these initiatives and programs, but that’s a huge hit. That’s literally 90-plus percent of our revenue is generated from one event. We’ve had to come up with some creative ideas and bridge that gap hoping next year we can host a banquet.
Q: What are the primary areas you want the club to be focused on right now as it pertains to projects and initiatives that you are going to invest your time and money in?
KLEINE: We’ve always been youth oriented. One of the initiatives we have going right now that we hope is up and running by Christmas break is an outdoor gear library. Us and other organizations are the funding mechanism, and we’re going to basically outfit this library. Community Ed is going to house all the equipment. They’ll check it in, check it out and perform minimal maintenance, but basically it gives kids, families, community members an opportunity to go and check out a set of cross country skis, snow shoes, camping gear, eventually canoes and kayaks -- the list goes on and on -- for little or no cost. If we have to subsidize it, we will. If a financial barrier is there, we’re going to get rid of it.
Q: As a relatively new member of the group, you can come in with a fresh perspective on some things. What, if any, are some areas you think it would benefit the club to maybe go in a different direction than it has been?
KLEINE: I think it’s just bringing the level of communication up and fast tracking things. Anyone can come up with ideas. It’s implementing it and finding the horsepower to do that stuff. I’m kind of driving our club to think high level and then find the horsepower outside of our club, whether it’s fundraising or collaborating with other groups, to accomplish it.
We can’t do it on our own, so we need to come up with the plan and come up with the execution plan too.